BT edges closer to Huawei core swap out

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Feb 9, 2024

  • BT had a deadline to remove Huawei technology from its core platform by the end of 2023
  • It’s still in the very final stages of completing that task
  • There’s one application that’s in the process of being replaced with an Amdocs system
  • The process should be finished within the next two months, says BT’s Howard Watson

BT is in the very final stages of swapping out Huawei technology from its critical mobile core platform and should finish the final processes by the end of March this year, according to Howard Watson, BT’s group chief security and networks officer.

The UK national operator had been given a deadline by the government of the end of 2023 to remove the Chinese vendor’s technology from its core platform, which is the ‘brain’ of a mobile network that comprises service and security control functions, such as authentication and authorisation, subscriber data management, connectivity and mobility management and much more. By missing the deadline, BT is, in theory, in line for some financial penalties. 

In 2020, the government issued a ban on the use of technology supplied by “high-risk vendors” (of which Huawei is the main one for the UK’s telcos) in mobile networks and, following a deadline extension, the end of 2023 was the target for such technology to be removed from the most sensitive part of the network, the core. But the process has been a tough one and has taken longer than originally anticipated, mainly due to operational delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Talking to reporters and industry analysts on Friday morning, Watson noted that at the end of 2023, 98.5% of the swap-out task had been completed. The main process still to be completed is the replacement of a Huawei function that manages 4G and 5G customer data bundles with an alternative system called Online Charging System (OCS), sourced from telecom software giant Amdocs. That process should be completed by the end of March, noted Watson. 

The UK government “understands our position. The process now is that Ofcom [the UK telecom regulator] will do a request for information in March where it will gather evidence from all of us – ourselves, Virgin Media O2 and Sky – that have Huawei in our core to a greater or lesser degree,” he added. Ofcom and the National Cyber Security Centre will then “take a view” of the situation, “but we are confident, from the conversations we’ve had, that they are impressed with the amazing progress we’ve made,” which has involved the migration of 30 million customers from the Huawei core platform to one that is mainly supplied by Ericsson, “ and that has been pretty flawless from a customer experience perspective,” explained Watson. 

So what might happen next? Might BT get landed with a massive fine for missing its 2023 deadline. It seems unlikely. The UK government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) told The Times newspaper recently that it is working closely with all of the operators that need to remove Huawei technology from their core platforms as quickly as possible and that any fines would be “appropriate and proportionate to the contravention”.

Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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